Sunday, January 20, 2013

Researchers and Long Putters

I received a copy of a press release from Golf Datatech about a survey they did of "serious amateur golfers" concerning the proposed anchoring ban, and I thought some of you might be interested in the results. I'm going to take direct quotes from the press release several times to make sure I get the info right.

First, for those of you who have never heard of Golf Datatech, they describe themselves as "the golf industry’s leading independent research firm for consumer, trade and retail golf trends." Golf Digest, among others, considers them a major player in golf research so the results will probably be taken seriously by the powers-that-be.

The survey was done among "serious golfers" (their quotes), which they define this way:
The results of the study are based on responses from 1,766 randomly selected golfers drawn from Golf Datatech’s exclusive Serious Golfer Database, who play an average of 68 rounds per year with an average handicap of 14.3.
While the numbers they uncovered are interesting, I found this paragraph from the press release to be the most interesting:
“This is such an explosive topic in golf that we felt the industry needed a benchmark for evaluating the opinion of the game’s most avid players,” said John Krzynowek, Partner, Golf Datatech. “On a practical level, the proposed ruling on anchoring putters has minimal impact on most amateur golfers, as only 5% use a long putter, and the majority of serious golfers don’t believe long putters aid in the putting process. Overall, however, the debate over long putters has far more to do with a few elite professional players and less to do with the game as played by the average golfer.”
To be honest with you, this interested me because it seems to contradict the general feeling I get from the media debates over anchoring. By that I mean that the proposed rule's effect on amateur golfers has been stressed repeatedly (though this survey suggests that it actually has very little effect) and that the majority of serious golfers don't believe long putters help (although it's their use by pros that has come most under fire). Also, the 5% number contradicts some of the figures quoted on TV -- I believe the number I heard was 10%.

The other numbers included in the release are as follows:
  • Respondents were divided almost in half about whether anchored putters make it easier to putt -- 45% say yes, 55% say no.
  • 60% believed that anchoring should be banned, 40% disagreed.
  • 62% did not believe that the anchoring ban would affect an amateur's enjoyment of the game. (I feel I should point out that this number is nearly identical to the 60% who agree with the ban. Is that somewhat telling in and of itself?)
  • If the rule goes into effect in 2016, 31% will continue to use an anchored putter, 31% will not anchor, and 38% will switch to a conventional putter. (I guess that means the 31% who won't anchor will continue to use a long putter with a different technique.)
If this research is to be believed, I think we could have a problem. Clearly Golf Datatech uses scientifically sound research methods or their work wouldn't be taken seriously by the golf industry. But if Golf Datatech is considered a reliable source of info by the golf industry, don't these results bring the very nature of the anchoring debate into question? After all, according to this survey "the debate over long putters has far more to do with a few elite professional players and less to do with the game as played by the average golfer.”

Although the Euro Tour has spoken out against it, it appears that the PGA Tour could care less. So what's the big deal?

As for the results themselves, regardless of how scientific they are, they still represent the opinions of "serious golfers," not the weekend amateurs that the questions seem to be concerned about. Isn't it a bit presumptuous to think the serious golfers can speak with any certainty about the "enjoyment of the game" by less serious golfers -- especially when the percentage of those golfers using an anchored putter is so small? Bear in mind that the 31% who would continue to use an anchored putter even if it was banned is just 31% of the 5% of amateurs who use them now. That's roughly 1.5% of all golfers.

I'm on record -- several times -- that I don't have a problem with other players using anchored putters. That's because I believe anchored putters make the game harder. There are aspects of putting that anchoring makes a little easier, and aspects that anchoring makes a little harder. Taken on the whole, I believe that anchoring makes it harder to putt well without a tremendous amount of practice. (Of course, with enough practice you can putt with an acoustic guitar or a brick tied to a yardstick... but do you really want to?) And after all that practice, a player using an anchored putter still isn't any better than a player who knows how to use a conventional one. I feel that anchored putters are more about desperation than facts.

To me, the main thrust of this survey is that the anchoring debate has more to do with emotion than science. But we already knew that, didn't we?

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